Learn to listen

ashwedGrowing up I had no idea why I had an ash cross marked on my forehead for Ash Wednesday. Ashes certainly seemed to indicate something dead, but their precise meaning eluded me. Mostly I thought it was neat because it made the service go by faster since nothing bored me more than a long sermon.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew it indicated the beginning of Lent and that many people talked about giving things up for the next 40 days. More importantly, it meant Easter would arrive soon and with candy, eggs and maybe a gift.

As I grew, I was exposed to different churches that didn’t practice the same traditions. There were people who practiced their faith much differently than I did, but I recalled the words of my pastor: “We believe we’re right, but we also believe [other Christians] are right too.”

A few weeks ago Bill Nye tried to do what was right for the future Kentucky students who’s relationship with science was put in harm’s way by the beliefs of Ken Ham. Nye stated this in a Huff Post Live interview found here. Was this the most productive way to advocate his point? Probably not, but it’s hard to fault his concern.

The debate didn’t change anyone’s mind on the matter and boiled down to Nye stating multiple examples of how science works to help us understand our past and Ham saying “You weren’t there, so how do you know?” For all intents and purposes, Ham might as well have stuck his tongue out and given Nye a raspberry instead.

As a child I believed in Adam and Eve, which is a story I no longer believe is factual. But I do believe in the reason the tale is told and it has become a symbolic, allegorical. Since Jesus spoke in parables, I tend to give other stories the same chance. Still, when I come across someone who does believe Adam and Eve were real I try to listen and understand why they need Adam and Eve to be real and can’t accept them as a symbol.

But there always seem to be people like Ham who don’t want to understand things differently. They act like any kind of compromise is failure and, most frustratingly, refuse to listen to an opposing side. My current pastor calls this “gripping the text tightly” and suggests we ought to “hold the Bible lightly” instead. He has a great blog about it here.

If the Nye/Ham debate has proven anything, it’s show that it’s difficult to hold our tongue and just try to listen. I’ve seen scores of Facebook posts and countless blogs (mostly depicting a mutual repartee highlighting the differences on each side). I think I’d go so far as to claim the simple act of not trying to argue, not trying to shove the mountain of contrary evidence in their face, but rather to listen may be the most respectful act. Will it change them or us? Probably not, but every so often listening to why someone else clutches to a belief tightly yields some remarkable insight.

And I think Christianity is big enough to accommodate many views. Consider the audience of the Old Testament, who would have found evolution incomprehensible and viruses beyond belief. How else could the story of creation been written for both the people then and now? How else could the Bible span not only the ages, but also so many different cultures around the world?

These days I watch my daughter as she believes Lent means Easter is around the corner. To her the most important things will be the egg hunts and candy but at some point will give up her eggs and candy for a different kind of belief. And hopefully that belief will be one that connects her to a larger community, not one that isolates her or makes her a less accepting person. I hope she learns to listen and not turn a deaf ear.

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